Fairy Tales and Social Consciousness by Kiyomi Appleton Gaines
As story-tellers we have an obligation to tell the truth...
Enchanted Conversation's contributing editor, Kiyomi Appleton Gaines, shares her thoughts on fairy tales and social consciousness.
I was playing around with a story that I have been getting nice rejection letters about, and I realized that it can't be published now. At least not for a while. In it, a flood devastates an entire community. When I wrote it, the August 2017 flood hadn't happened yet here in New Orleans, nor Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, or Maria. Now the parallel, though loose, seems too close.
Too soon, I thought, re-reading it.
So away it goes, into the proverbial desk drawer for a time. Maybe when it feels okay to bring it out again, I'll know just how to tweak it for publication. At least, I am pleased to find, I still like what I wrote months ago.
As story-tellers we have an obligation to tell the truth - our truth, and greater Truth as we are able to - honestly, even when it's frightening and when it hurts. Yet we also have a more essential, human call to be gentle when it is in our power to be. We have a choice in the stories we tell, and how and when we choose to tell them. When discourse becomes volatile and raw, or when we don't know what to say, fairy stories remain essentially a source of comfort as things we remember from childhood, things that tie us to our distant past, and as a point of entry to our common desires. Like religious rituals, they commemorate that time in our lives when they first came to us, and all the times they were revisited, because something of them continues to resonate in us - Cinderella gone from a young child's imaginings of a beautiful ball and escape from the unfairness of chores, to learning that first love is never really a knight on a white horse, to a spouse rejecting traditional gender roles perhaps. In any event, our favorite stories shape us, as our experiences shape our understandings of what they mean, or what they might mean.
I like to say that I love fairy tales because they teach us about being human. These stories, many - though not all - with an ancient heritage, endure for a reason. They show us people who are trying to cheat death, to make the most of their lot, to bargain with fate; people who are just trying. Of course there's magic, and gods, and even fairies, but each of those also say something about what is important to us - or at least what was at one time. The morality lessons are there of course - be kind to the old, and the frail, and the ugly, because whether witch or godmother, you'll be better off if you're polite! But so, too, are those examples of strength and persistence in the face of incredible adversity, commentary on equality, and - since so many deal in nobility and rulership - the responsibility that attends great privilege. They tell us about the hopes and aspirations of people who came before us, not individually but corporately. And I think when we examine them, and turn them around, and approach them in a different way, when we share them from a different perspective, we can change, corporately, the way we see ourselves, and each other, as we move forward.
So while that story of nature's destructive power is put away for now, there are others waiting to be told.
Kiyomi Appleton Gaines is a contributing editor at Enchanted Conversation Magazine who writes stories and articles inspired by folklore and fairy tales.
Cover by Amanda Bergloff
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